Haftar Seeks to Continue His Fight for Tripoli

Despite international efforts to compromise in Libya, General Khalifa Haftar has been renewing his claim to power by reiterating that a key UN agreement on Libya was invalid. Instead, Haftar has announced that he will continue his offensive on the country’s capital, Tripoli.

Haftar Vows to Keep Fighting

In a speech on his television channel on Monday, Haftar claimed to possess the “people’s mandate” to rule Libya. What the mandate looked like and how he obtained it was not addressed by Haftar. Instead, he announced that he would create the conditions for “permanent institutions of a constitutional state” to be built.

Haftar’s aim of establishing military rule under his leadership in Libya and enforce this by military means is not new information. However, the timing of the speech is peculiar, as his forces have been in retreat.

Particularly due to Turkish efforts, Haftar’s troops have been pushed back substantially in recent weeks. Even the Turkish Navy has recently intervened and attacked targets on land in what can be considered a strong message from Ankara. Since this heavy pushback, a Haftar victory has become somewhat inconceivable.

The Reality Behind Haftar’s Speech

Nonetheless, in his TV address, Haftar appeared to be unsusceptible to the pressure of his opponents. Whether Haftar himself still believes in his message, however, must be doubted at this stage. Ever since Turkey’s involvement, his conquest for Tripoli has become a dream. His speech thus aims to hide fear and weakness and to prevent forces from his camp from reviving the negotiation process with the UN and Sarraj officials in Tripoli in the face of military setbacks.

The fact that Haftar’s combat troops are rather diverse increases the issues he has been facing. Among his troops are tribes, local militias, radical Islamists and supporters of the overthrown Gaddafi regime. Only some parts of his army are specially trained and comparatively well organized, others are African mercenaries from Chad or Darfur. The foundation and unity to fight for a common goal among an army of opportunists who could quickly reorient themselves in the event of a looming defeat remain rather shaky.

International Backing for Haftar

Moreover, Haftar’s international supporters could also lose patience. Dwindling success could lead, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt to cease its commitment. Moscow was said to be “surprised” by Haftar’s speech on Monday.

General Haftar began his offensive against the United Nations-backed government of Prime Minister al-Sarraj in Tripoli in April 2019, intending to conquer the capital. So far his mission has been to no avail.

The continuing power vacuum in Libya was triggered by the overthrow of former ruler Muammar al-Gaddafi in 2011. Since then, countless parties to the conflict have been fighting each other. Haftar controls much of the south and east of the country, where a specially formed parliament supports him.

Attempts at Peace

At the beginning of 2020, efforts to bring peace to the war-torn country have been attempted via the Libya conference in Berlin. However, the initial steps that had been agreed upon such as a ceasefire and a stoppage of arms supply from parties outside of the country, have so far been a failure.

The UN tried to mediate well before Haftar’s offensive began, however. In 2015, they reached the so-called Skhirat agreement. This UN-brokered agreement was supposed to regulate the country’s division of power and create the basis for the unity of government in Tripoli.

Haftar had already declared this agreement invalid in 2017 and has now renewed his negative attitude in his speech, saying that the agreement would have destroyed the country and was “a thing of the past”.

However, it is a past that could soon catch up with Haftar if he continuous to find himself in retreat.